In previous chapters, we learn that Robbie has been fired from his posh job, and his relationship with his kids and wife is a bit strained. But then, he finds himself in another world after he steps inside a cardboard box…
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Chapter 5 (pt. 2)
Soon the jungle trees cleared away. The greenery subsided, the leaves became sparse and the rolling ground became flat. Surrounding them now was nothing but a barren wasteland littered with armchair-sized rocks lying next to large holes in the ground.
Robbie was startled when he saw a young boy scurrying away from them like a frightened animal. The boy, wearing an old tattered cloak like Hail, disappeared into the ground through one of the holes. A minute later he noticed people’s heads popping up from several of the scattered holes. All around them people came crawling out of the ground like timid meerkats.
Groups of people and individuals alike began dragging themselves out from most of the holes. Their clothing was all identical – burlap robes and garments held up by thin ropes that wrapped around their waists. Their hair was ragged and tangled in messes and though no one was skeletal, there wasn’t a single person who looked plump or well fed. As they came out from underground they stood around in small groups. They looked cautiously at Robbie and Hail who were making their way through. Once they walked past them, varying people lifted their heads toward the duo and Robbie could almost detect tiny glimpses of glee in their eyes. Their skin colors were diverse; some were white, others black, all dark from sun exposure.
“Where are we?” asked Robbie, just loud enough for Hail to hear.
“We’re in Langly,” she answered.
As soon as she said this, Robbie felt a pair of hands graze over his shoulders from behind. He defensively turned around, pulling away from the unwelcome gesture. When he turned, the sun suddenly seemed to shine brighter, and everyone besides the strawberry-blond haired woman standing before him vanished from his sight. Her smile made Robbie’s stomach do things he could barely recall from a past distant life, and one word stood out in his mind:
As in, Help me to breathe. Help me to think. Help me to talk. And, Help me to not look too stupid when I attempt any of these things in front of this woman. But, since Robbie’s love-struck self-conscience had eliminated everyone around him, there was no help to be found. Her face tilted down and her cheeks reddened as she shrugged her shoulders. “You’re exactly as I imagined you to be,” she said.
“Er, thanks,” said Robbie, not sure how exactly to respond to that. He was certain he would have remembered her if they had ever met before.
“I’m so glad you’re finally with us,” the young woman continued. She opened her arms and asked, “May I?”
Only for the rest of our lives, thought Robbie.
When they embraced, Hail said, “Robbie, meet Sarcadui. She will be your guide to the ocean.”
Robbie stiffened. This was not at all what he expected a Sarcadui to look like. He stepped back and examined her.
“He’s a bit intimidated by you,” said Hail.
Robbie shooshed her away with his hand and said, “I am not.” Then to Sarcadui, he insisted, “Really, I’m not. I was before I met you, but now I’m not.”
“So I’m not intimidating?” asked Sarcadui, crossing her arms.
“Well. I don’t mean that,” faltered Robbie. “It’s just. You’re intimidating in a good sort of way, like when you want to be …I think.”
“Told you,” Hail muttered to Sarcadui.
Sarcadui laughed, placing her hand on Robbie’s shoulder. “Welcome back home, Robbie Lake,” she said with a warm smile.
She looked to be in her early twenties. Her long hair fell lazily past her shoulders, and she was dressed in the same dirty-beige garment as everyone else around them. Her sharp blue eyes and alluring smile set her apart from everyone else. Another difference was that she wore around her waist a satchel that hung from the rope-belt which a knife handle protruded from.
“I can’t tell you how glad we are that you’re finally here! We were beginning to wonder if you’d ever come back.” Her voice was soothing and he wanted to hear more of it. Then her attention turned to Hail. “Hail, I’m proud of you. I secretly hoped I’d be the one to find him, but since I wasn’t, I’m glad it was you.”
“You should have seen it. I almost killed him. I thought he was an impostor,” Hail laughed.
To Robbie’s surprise Sarcadui and some others in the crowd laughed along with her, as if murdering him were some inside joke. He was more than a bit insulted.
“Well good work,” said Sarcadui when the laughter died down. Then she snapped her attention back to Robbie. “All these years we had people stationed up in the Walei Caves to await your arrival. This week was actually Hail’s first time up there. Once they’re of age to be out alone, everyone is required to serve their time in the cave waiting for you. I imagine the clothes tipped her off that it was you. That’s why we all dress like this, as unflattering as it is. Since no one alive knows what you look like, we had to rely on the stories that insisted on you wearing otherworldly clothes.” Then, changing her tune, she said with a grin, “So it looks like we’ve got quite a journey ahead of us.”
Needless to say, he was more than happy to go anywhere with this pulchritudinous woman. If she asked him to follow her into a volcano, he’d be more than happy to oblige. However, there was still something he needed cleared up before he followed her too far.
“Maybe you can tell me where we are,” said Robbie. “Like, are we talking Africa, Australia, the Western hemisphere? I know it’s weird, but I really don’t even know how I got here. My guess is that my plane crashed and I hit my head and wandered off from the crash site or something. So if you could maybe humor me with something I can work with, I’d appreciate that.”
Sarcadui laughed and said, “I don’t really know much about what lies outside of Reveloin. I’ve certainly never heard of Afreeka, or Western Hesmephere.”
“Hemisphere,” Robbie corrected.
“Sorry. But I can tell you all about Reveloin. I used to love going to the Walei Caverns just to splash around in the water and laugh while I waited for you. The echoes made it sound like others were laughing with me but really I was alone, so I could act as foolish as I wanted.” Robbie couldn’t help but notice her loose garment swirling around her slender figure. It almost made up for the fact that she had no interest in helping him gain his bearings.
“But the Walei Caverns isn’t my favorite place,” she continued. “My favorite place is the mountain tops on Candy Ridge. Or used to be, anyway.”
A man standing nearby stepped forward and handed Robbie a small rock, which he took out of obligation. “They say that long ago you could actually taste the rocks and trees and they’d be sweet,” said the man. “Go on. Taste it.”
Robbie looked skeptically at him. “Give it a lick,” the man urged.
To humor him, Robbie stuck his tongue out and dragged the rough rock against it, which sponged all the moisture off of his tongue. He grimaced at the dirty, gritty taste in his mouth. Everyone looked at him with eager anticipation.
“How does it taste?” asked Sarcadui.
“Disgusting,” said Robbie, attempting to build saliva back up in his mouth with obnoxious tongue clicking.
Hail broke the disappointed silence with a gleeful bit of laughter. “He fell for it! He’s just as weird as he dresses!”
“Hail,” snapped Sarcadui, “it wasn’t supposed to be a joke. We thought things would go back to normal since he’s here.” Then a smile broke onto her face and she turned to Robbie and said, “Still, it was rather funny to see your reaction. But don’t feel too badly.” And here, she whispered to him out of the side of her mouth: “I’ve tried to eat some leaves from the mountains more than once.”
“Why in the world would you do that?” asked Robbie.
“Don’t you remember? When you were here, everything was edible. Of course, I wasn’t alive yet at the time, but still, I’ve heard all the stories. But there are other things I like to do other than try to find remnants of the past world. Like swimming in the rivers that flow in and out of the jungles, and exploring the abandoned towns where the cowboys used to fight. And sometimes if I’m feeling brave I like to visit the swamplands, but never at night of course. I’m always well hidden every night, no matter where I am. You can never be too careful once the sun’s gone down. And they say that before I was born, fairies existed and flew around freely at night lighting up the sky so that you couldn’t tell the difference between their magic dust and the stars above. But they don’t come out anymore because they’re too afraid. It’s always been my dream to see a real fairy.
“But listen to me, telling you about your own world as if you’ve never been here. Now that you’re back, maybe you can show me things I’ve never seen before. Oh, and I like diamonds. I don’t know why. I just have a thing for diamonds. But they’re much harder to find than you’d think.”
In spite of himself Robbie laughed along with his new friend. She just wasn’t going to accept the truth that he had never been to this place. Still, her mirth was hopelessly contagious.
“Do you think it’s him?” asked an older gentleman from the crowd.
Sarcadui looked at the man, then stared intently at Robbie. Robbie was hypnotized by her gaze, getting lost in her pearly blue eyes, and again the world seemed to stand still. After a long moment she declared, “Yes. It’s him.”
The people began to smile one by one, and some started crying, stretching their hands out toward him. “What do they want?” asked Robbie, trying not to seem insolent.
Sarcadui laughed and said delightedly, “They want to welcome you here. They’ve been waiting for you for many years.”
“You mean they’ve all been expecting me?”
The people continued to put their hands on him.
“We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” repeated Sarcadui, punctuating the point.
Robbie was too weary to face the absurdity of this situation, so he simply succumbed to playing the role of the welcomed guest and smiled politely, trying hard not to stiffen against the nauseating odor that emanated from the large group of unkempt people.
Sarcadui, noticing his uneasiness, laughed and said, “Relax. You’re their hero.”
“What for?” Robbie managed, holding his breath. “I didn’t do anything for them.”
“But you’re going to. We’re expecting you to save us from everything that’s wrong in this world, and restore order in our lives.” Then she added, as if the idea just hit her, “We should have a party in your honor. Though, it can’t last too long since it’ll be dark soon.”
The crowd immediately dispersed with shouts of excitement to prepare for the celebration. Sarcadui led Robbie to a rock and told him to stay put while she joined the busy crowd.
He still had so many questions to ask. Where exactly was Reveloin? Who were these people? How was he expected to save them? But the question that haunted him the most was, who—or what—did they have to hide from every night?